2014-10-17 / Community
Candidates take the stage in only public debate
It was standing-room-only on Sunday as Assemblyman Jeff Gorell and Congresswoman Julia Brownley, candidates for California’s 26th Congressional District, answered a series of questions during a debate in the Grand Salon at CSU Channel Islands.
“We are indeed fortunate to have two outstanding public servants standing for office,” university President Richard Rush said to a crowd of more than 500. “Thank you for your willingness to be part of this democratic process. It really is the core of what makes our democracy great.”
Audience members—many of whom sported pins or T-shirts displaying the name of their chosen candidate— listened closely as Timm Herdt, veteran political reporter for the Ventura County Star, asked the candidates a variety of questions on topics including climate change, immigration reform, women’s rights, fracking, minimum wage and gun control.
The debate was largely cordial until Herdt asked Brownley if Gorell was a lobbyist for specialinterest groups.
The buzzword “lobbyist” has been used to discredit the challenger in a series of mailers by Brownley’s campaign.
Brownley said that although Gorell is not a registered lobbyist, his track record says otherwise.
She said his voting record reflects an alliance with oil and gas companies.
“I believe it is extremely important that people in Ventura County understand the issues and understand our differences,” Brownley said. “He said he’s not a registered lobbyist and I’ll accept that. But if you look at various websites, his own LinkedIn website, he calls himself a lobbyist.”
Gorell fired back.
He said the majority of the funding for Brownley’s campaign has come from special-interest groups from outside the district.
“Why would the incumbent call me a lobbyist?” he said. “Perhaps because she’s trying to distract voters from the fact that I served in a combat zone, that I served in a courtroom, that I served in a classroom and that I’ve served in the California state Capitol. . . . This is a distraction and this is part of a very disappointing and very partisan campaign.”
The debate ended with closing remarks from the two candidates.
Gorell, a commander in the United States Navy Reserve, said he has a “history of putting people ahead of politics.”
He said he will continue to work closely with Republicans and Democrats to serve the best interests of his constituents.
“We need that more than ever in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “And I’m prepared to provide that right now.”
Brownley, a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said she hopes voters will give her their support.
“My first priority is, and will always be, to represent all of Ventura County’s interests and to continue to fight for Ventura County’s middle-class families,” she said.
“I will continue to roll up my sleeves to serve you and to fight for you every single day.”
Following the event, many had good things to say about how the forum unfolded.
“It was a great debate,” said Sandy Emberland, a member of the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley. “I like to hear directly from the candidates, especially when their answers differ.”
Marcus Wurtz, president of the CSU Channel Islands College Republicans Club, volunteered at the event.
“I was born and raised in a conservative household,” the 21-year-old said. “Democratic policies are not working to create jobs for college students like myself (and) I want to be a part of the change in the process that makes an impact.”
Paul Beigh and his girlfriend, Phyllis Ross, also came to support Gorell. questions that were asked were not directly answered,” Beigh said. “I felt that Brownley, in particular, really had traditional, stand-pat answers. And always in those answers, interwove dialogue that would really focus primarily on women and minorities.”
Ross, like Beigh, said the responses from the incumbent lacked substance.
“I felt that Julia Brownley often restated the questions rather than directly answering them,” Ross said. “She read a lot of her responses, whereas Jeff Gorell was very direct. He seemed very sure about his answers.”
Colleen Graven, the founder and president of the Moorpark Democratic Club, said she attended the debate to support Brownley.
“I think she was more direct,” Graven said. “Her responses were down-to-earth and solid.”
Bette Empol, an elected member of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee, said she too was impressed by the incumbent.
“I thought Julia Brownley looked very congressional,” she said. “She was very much in charge of the debate.”
Thom Tibor, the president of the Camarillo Democratic Club, said he was “offended” by Gorell’s comments on gun control.
“It was very disingenuous,” he said. “It was like a big wink to the NRA.”
Brownley, Tibor said, seemed more sincere in her responses.
“There was a hint of emotion in her closing,” he said. “I felt like she was really communicating with the people.”
Some attendees came to gain a better understanding of each candidate’s platform.
Joe MacKenzie, 55, said he came to the debate with “an open mind.”
The Camarillo resident— who does not identify with a specific political party—said many of the candidates’ responses “echoed each other.”
“They really weren’t that different (but) I’m leaning towards Mr. Gorell,” he said. “I think he has more of a hands-on take on foreign policy.”
Still, MacKenzie said, nothing is set in stone.
“I haven’t fully decided,” he said. “We still have a few weeks to go.”